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TOKYO â€“ Taishin Kohiruimaki prevailed in three bouts in one night to win the K-1 World Max Japan Tournament at the Yoyogi Olympic Stadium in central Tokyo. It was the veteran kickboxer's third World Max Japan Championship -- he also captured the honors in 2004 and 2005.
At 31 years of age, Kohiruimaki was the oldest fighter in the tournament. Few figured on the Aomori-born kickboxer upsetting the field as he did -- he had won just twice in his last seven World Max bouts, a rough road going back to the summer of 2006.
It was a classic K-1 eight-man elimination tournament -- a quartet of first-tier bouts sending four fighters to semifinals, the winners then meeting in the final. K-1 World Max bouts are conducted under K-1 rules, with a weight limit of 70kg/154lbs.
First up in the tournament quarterfinals were 25-year-old kickboxer Hayato and Yuichiro "Jienotsu" Nagashima, who is the NJKF Super Welterweight Champion and who dresses up as female cartoon characters -- a practice known as "cosplay" (costume play). Nagashima pranced into the ring as the green-haired "Ranka Lee" of the "Macross" science-fiction anime series.
It turns out Ranka packs a pretty big punch for a pretty little girl. A right straight earned Nagashima a down midway through the first, and in the second the fists put Hayato on the canvas twice, giving Nagashima the win and a trip to the semifinals.
In the second quarterfinal, boxer Tatsuji, who made it to the final at the '06 and '07 Max Japan Tournaments, stepped in against karateka Yuya Yamamoto.
Fast and furious action here, both fighters smart with their positioning, combinations and blocking in the early going; each rattling the other with fists in the second to start the final frame even on all cards. A good deal of slugging in the third, Yamamoto also firing in the low kicks. One judge liked Yamamoto, the others saw a draw, and so a tiebreaker round was prescribed.
In the extra round Yamamoto scored with a high kick and got a down with a straight punch to take the victory and advance to the semis.
Next up it was Defending World Max Japan Champion Yasuhiro Kido and 22-year-old kickboxer Hinata.
A spirited start, with Hinata landing a left to the face, Kido matching the pace as the round progressed to keep the score even. A Kido knee and punching combination downed Hinata early in the second. Kido was too defensive in the third, and Hinata's attacks forced an extra round. Both fighters got some stuff through here, but the judges liked Hinata's spunk, and rewarded him with a spot in the semis.
The last of the first-tier matchups saw Kohiruimaki take his first step to victory in a bout with Nigerian-born, Japan-based kickboxer Andy Ologun. Because Ologun had not made weight, he started down one point on all cards.
Too much time in the clinch here, with Kohiruimaki twice cautioned for holding in the second round, as Ologun connected with a hard right to the head to inch ahead on one scorecard. In the third Kohiruimaki was shown a yellow card for holding, after which he stood and fought, and well -- although the bout ended with the two, again, locked in the clinch. One judge saw a draw, the other two said Kohiruimaki, sending him to the semis.
The first of the semifinals featured Yamamoto and Nagashima, who had thoughtfully prepared a costume change and choreographed a second ring entrance number for Ranka Lee. Nagashima was again adept with his lateral movement and precise with his punches and took the first round by a point on two cards. He weathered a Yamamoto challenge early in the second, and came back with big punches only to be felled when Yamamoto smacked home a left. Nagashima made a valiant effort to catch up in the third, pounding in punches, but Yamamoto answered in kind, aggravating a nasty cut over the scrappy cross-dresser's right eye to force a doctor's check and stoppage. Yamamoto to the final.
Kohiruimaki was meant to meet Hinata in the second semifinal, but it was announced that the fighter had a busted nose and could not continue in the tournament. Under K-1 Rules, Yasuhiro Kido took Hinata's place.
After a tentative start the fighters tested with kicks, and in the late first began swinging, both making good contact, Kohiruimaki finishing stronger. Kohi carried the momentum into the second, scoring an early down with a flurry of punches. Kido beat the count but was less than 100% at resumption, and Kohiruimaki quickly exploited, firing in fists to score a second down and pick up the win.
It was Kohiruimaki and Yamamoto in the final, and what a final it was.
Yamamoto chased Kohiruimaki from the bell, laying in with the fists, but Kohi was no slouch, and repeatedly sunk his opponent's head and brought up the knee, a maneuver that scored points and delivered a down. Coming into the second with a two-point lead on all three judges' cards, Kohiruimaki elected to circle beyond harm's reach. But Yamamoto cut off the ring, and stunned Kohiruimaki with a left hook. Kohiruimaki countered by again working the knee from the clinch to brutalize Yamamoto's face. The third was a thrilling round, as the determined Yamamoto answered Kohiruimaki's high kicks and hit-and-rum strategy by rushing in with a right straight punch that connected hard for a down.
Yamamoto pressed after resumption, while Kohiruimaki stalled with the clinch before answering fists with fists. That's the way it ended, the pair in a toe-to-toe slugfest, each giving it their all. Try as he might, Yamamoto could not put Kohi down again, and when the bell sounded and the scores were tallied he had fallen just short. A smart fight and a smart night from Kohiruimaki, whose experience proved the difference here.
"My first opponent, Andy Ologun, was pretty tough," said Kohiruimaki afterward, "but I knew I could win if I fought my style of fight. For the second match I expected to face Hinata, but it turned out to be Kido. In the third fight, Yamamoto had strong heart, but I finally managed to win!"
"I didn't have any damage at all," continued Kohiruimaki, "I only got punched and went down during the final because I slackened my concentration a little. In the last few years, I'd had quite a long blank in my carrier. But I volunteered to fight in this Japan tournament, and I'm ready now for the next stage, for the World Max Tournament!"
"I took a lot of kicks in my first fight, so my legs were really heavy and I couldn't use them," said Yamamoto. "I had to go with my punches, and I thought I was lucky to face Kohiruimaki, who doesn't like getting punched. However, I barely remember the match, I fought with nothing but pure willpower!"
By winning the Japan Tournament, Kohiruimaki earns the right to represent the Land of the Rising Sun at the World Max 2009 Final-8 elimination in July.
There were three Superfights on the card.
Yoshihiro Sato of Japan took on Russian boxer Sergey Golyaev. Standing 185cm/6'1", World Max '06 Japan Champ Sato has fought many shorter opponents over the years, but in Golyaev meet a man his own height.
Sato was not intimidated, and outperformed Golyaev through the first, connecting with low kicks while the Russian misfired his overhand punches. In the second, Golyaev's big punches again failed as he got caught on counters, Sato scoring successive downs with low kicks. Now the wobbly Russian's legs were gone, and Sato delivered the coup de grace with a right low kick.
The inaugural (2002) World Max Champion, hard-punching Albert "Hurricane" Kraus of Holland, stepped in against Korean kickboxer Su Hwan Lee.
Lee used his 5cm/2" height advantage to set the distance, firing low kicks and reaching in with straight punches; but a speedy Kraus closed effectively with body blows and punch combinations, and in the second round added low kicks and knees to his attacks. Kraus brought a slight points advantage into the third, and again pummeled the right to the body before clocking Lee in the chops a coupla times at the clapper. A unanimous decision for the Dutchman.
"I think it was a good fight for the crowd," said Kraus afterward. "I knew from the beginning that he was a good fighter, and he really was a good fighter -- so I had to do my very best to win!"
In another Superfight, Japanese kickboxer Daisuke Uematsu, the ISKA World Lightweight Champion, took on compatriot Kazuhisa Watanabe, a freewheeling boxer making his K-1 debut.
Speedy hands and amusing antics from Watanabe throughout, the showman surprising with a number of unusual kicking attacks. Uematsu's evasions remained sound, especially in the face of a frenetic Watanabe punching assault at the onset of the third. Lots of fun here -- although Uematsu did not appear amused, only allowing a faint smile when his victory by unanimous decision was announced.
Theirs was an undercard bout, but that didn't stop Shingo Garyu and Hiroyuki Owatari from turning it into a thoroughly entertaining dance -- Garyu taking the win by majority decision.
In a K-1 World Youth Rules 62kg bout, K-1 Koshien 2008 Champion Hiroya eked out a majority decision over karateka Kizaemon Saiga.
In the Japan Tournament Reserve bout, Yasuhito Shirasu beat Keiji Ozaki by unanimous decision.
This was the opening event of the eighth K-1 World Max season. All fights were conducted under K-1 Official Rules, 3Min. x 3R, with a possible tiebreaker round, and two possible tiebreakers in the tournament final.
The K-1 World Max Japan Tournament attracted a sellout crowd of 10,421 to the Yoyogi Olympic Complex in central Tokyo. It was broadcast live across Japan on the TBS network, and will be delay-broadcast internationally on Eurosport, HD Net, CJ Media, GloboSat, ViaSat, Al Jazeera Sport and Saran Media. Contact local providers for broadcast times.